Whisper Down the Lane

These days, I find myself engaged in various games of “whisper down the lane,” where one person shares news about school closings and shelter in place orders, and then that information is relayed to others as needed. I am receiving less news directly from news sources just in that I am unable to keep up and it is very draining to process anxiety-provoking news. When I do check news sources, I become the first person in ‘Whisper down the lane’ and relay the news to my networks as needed.

This game of ‘Whisper down the lane’ is very reminiscent of what happens in my parents’ communities. It would usually be that someone’s daughter/son/nephew/niece/etc. translated news and then this news would be spread when that individual goes to work and tells their coworkers during lunch. Then each individual would go back to their families and relay the news, “so-and-so’s daughter told her xyz!” The cycle repeats of sharing with family members, coworkers, community members, etc. as the information is dispersed. This is especially important in communities where there is a lack of language resources and translated material.

However, as one can imagine, a lot can be lost in translation and mistranslated when we are playing this continuous game of whisper down the lane. Whether it is a lack of understanding of the information or cultural differences, some information is lost and some is retained when we relay messages to each other. Especially during this panic-ridden time where there are shelter-in-place orders, recommendations of social distancing, and information about unemployment income or layoffs from work.

This game of whisper down the lane, though beneficial in the past, has led to increased panic with the transmission of false and exaggerated information.


In my most recent calls with my parents, I have taken on the role of correcting false information and managing my parents’ anxiety and panic. It is especially difficult when I am correcting beliefs that they thought to be true. Their social media feeds are swarmed with “life hacks” on how to protect yourself from the virus — eating ginger, drinking warm water, cutting onions and putting them in the house to absorb the virus — and they would relay that information to me during our calls. I would react with how these are not ‘proven’ methods and that the best way to prevent exposure is social distancing and staying home.

My parents did not respond well to my critiques of their ginger and onions. “Your uncle said it’s true!” “The Vietnamese news said to drink warm water.” The information that was received in the games of whisper down the lane were previously true, so why is it all of a sudden not true? Who am I to say that ginger water isn’t a preventative for COVID-19? Why should my parents stay at home when they can just drink ginger water and go outside?

During this time of heightened anxiety, I find myself not only taking on the emotional labor of processing information and my own responses to COVID-19, but also processing the information for my family and their responses on how to protect themselves. It is extremely strenuous to try to convey information to people who are hesitant and skeptical. I imagine my parents feel the same towards me, as someone who refuses to drink ginger water. My parents want me to stay safe, and I want the same for my parents, as their age may make them more susceptible to fatality.

To minimize my own emotional labor and my parents’ frustrations, I have decided to adopt a “smile and nod” empathetic approach. I respect your methods of coping with the virus with ginger water, and I also recommend staying at home. Sure, I will consider the ginger. I hope you also consider staying at home. I want you to be safe.

This is a time where empathy and compassion are especially needed, and I would hate to spend my phone calls with my parents bickering about preventative measures. I decided to write this post after conversations with peers in similar frustrating situations to encourage empathy and compassion for ourselves, each other, and our family members who are finding their own ways of coping with the chaos, especially if they have been previously exposed to similar traumas of war, famine, and disease. During our time in quarantine, whether we are spending it working from home, taking online classes, or engaging in more leisure activities, I encourage you to reach out to people you love and to keep in touch. Everyone copes in different ways and a little compassion goes a long way.

Below are some resources in various languages that can be forwarded to family and community members. I have found them helpful!

Resources

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